The Big 12 champion Jayhawks begin their march towards another Final Four in Tulsa, and they steadily improved their play throughout the Big 12 Tournament. But what to do when there isn't the motivation of getting revenge on a team that beat them earlier in the season (Texas)? There should be the motivation of last season, when as the top overall seed the Jayhawks went home in the second round. Boston University has compensated well for the loss of Jake O'Brien and in John Holland and Darryl Partin head coach Patrick Chambers has some solid pieces. But it likely won't be enough to deal with the deep Jayhawks, and the scary thing for Kansas is that Josh Selby has yet to go off as so many know he's capable of doing. The Morris twins and Thomas Robinson offer a great deal up front, but a trip to Houston may come down to how well their guards play.
The 8/9 matchup offers quite the contrast in terms of how the two teams enter the tournament. UNLV has played well in recent weeks, winning six straight before falling to San Diego State in the Mountain West semis. Illinois on the other hand has failed to to establish any kind of consistency, losing five of their last eight games. The Rebels do a good job of defending and have a number of versatile options on offense, led by wings Chace Stanback and Tre'Von Willis. The confusing aspect of the Illini's struggles center around the fact that they've got experience with Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale leading the way. But are these guys capable of leading this talented group, or will they end their careers with a whimper? Toughness has been an issue for Illinois, and UNLV will test them in that area from the opening tip.
Denver (March 17)
(5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Richmond
(4) Louisville vs. (13) Morehead State
In their last two NCAA appearances prior Vanderbilt was a four-seed paired up with champions of non-BCS leagues, and both times they went home. In 2008 Siena blew them out in a game that was more surprising for its margin than the fact that it happened. Last year it was Murray State that did the honors, knocking down a shot at the buzzer to beat the Commodores. Maybe being a five this time around is a good omen, but Kevin Stallings' team did not get an easy matchup. Richmond starts four seniors with guard Kevin Anderson and forward Justin Harper leading the charge, and they've held their last six opponents below 40% shooting from the field. Vandy is a tougher team than in seasons past but they've still had issues closing games out, especially away from Memorial Gym. This could be one of the 12 over 5 games that many people pick.
The other matchup will be entertaining to watch as well with two schools that call the Bluegrass State home meeting all the way out in Denver. The tandem of Kenneth Faried and Demonte Harper was an absolute handful throughout the OVC Tournament, and Morehead State has enough experience to know what to expect since quite a few of these players were on the 2009 team that lost to Louisville in the first round. Rick Pitino may not have any surefire NBA prospects on his roster but he's done one of his best coaching jobs with this group. The Cardinals will press, using guards Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva to ramp up the tempo. But their defense is about more than full-court pressure; the Cardinals will change up what they do at times within the same possession. Morehead State can win but they'll need to be smart with the basketball to do so.
All-Top Half Team
G Kevin Anderson (Richmond)
G John Jenkins (Vanderbilt)
G/F Chace Stanback (UNLV)
F Marcus Morris (Kansas)
F/C Kenneth Faried (Morehead State)
Top Half All-Rookie Team
G Josh Selby (Kansas)
G Cedric Lindsay (Richmond)
F Jereme Richmond (Illinois)
F Dom Morris (Boston University)
C Gorgui Dieng (Louisville)
Top Half All-Lower Seed Team
G Demonte Harper (Morehead State)
F John Holland (Boston University)
F Justin Harper (Richmond)
Chicago (March 18)
(6) Georgetown vs. (11) USC/VCU
(3) Purdue vs. (14) Saint Peter's
Dayton is where this subregional will begin with USC meeting VCU on Wednesday night with the winner moving on to face Georgetown. Both teams have had their credentials questioned with the Rams being a frequent whipping boy along with UAB. But Shaka Smart has a very good basketball team that doesn't lack for experience, led by point guard Joey Rodriguez and forward Jamie Skeen. USC has a good frontcourt comprised of Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, and wing Marcus Simmons was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Tempo will likely determine the matchup with a quicker pace favoring VCU. As for Georgetown, the question is how rusty will point guard Chris Wright be after missing the last two weeks with a broken hand. It was painfully obvious how much the Hoyas missed him offensively with Austin Freeman getting little in the way of consistent help. Can Georgetown duplicate last year's first round exit? Sure, but they can also win a game or two if all members of the rotation contribute in some way.
Purdue taking on Saint Peter's could be a half-court slugfest as both teams are very good defensive teams. The story of John Dunne's senior-led squad is one that's been told numerous times since their win in the MAAC Tournament. Their nucleus won five games as freshmen, and the climb from that valley to the NCAA Tournament has been a long and sometimes painful one. But in a matchup like this the edge tends to go to the team with more pro-level talents, and in center JaJuan Johnson the Boilermakers have one of the nation's best. E'Twaun Moore has been outstanding all season as well, but if Purdue is to get to Houston some of their supporting cast members will need to have an impact.
Chicago (March 18)
(7) Texas A&M vs. (10) Florida St.
(2) Notre Dame vs. (15) Akron
Chicago will feature two defensive slugfests as Texas A&M takes on Florida State in a game that may not reach the 60s. Texas A&M's guards don't have the greatest shooting percentages but Dash Harris and B.J. Holmes simply find ways to make plays late for head coach Mark Turgeon. Khris Middleton leads the team in scoring and fellow forwards David Lobeau and Nathan Walkup are right behind him, and what Middleton does against the Seminoles will be something to watch especially if Chris Singleton is able to return. Derwin Kitchen has stepped up in Singleton's absence but there have been plenty of instances where the loss of their leading scorer and rebounder was apparent.
Two-seed Notre Dame didn't have to travel far for their opening game, and while expected to take care of Akron the Zips have an outstanding big man in Zeke Marshall. Marshall blocked nine shots in the MAC title game on Saturday and leads a team that has made five straight appearances in the MAC final. But do they have enough defensively to slow down Mike Brey's potent offense led by Ben Hansbrough? The good news for Akron is that they allow opponents to shoot just 31% from three, but they haven't run into a club that shoots the ball as well as the Irish do. Tim Abromaitis, Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott will all have an impact as well, and Scott Martin has played well himself. While the Irish can definitely shoot the have to avoid becoming too reliant on the outside shot in order to make a deep run.
All-Bottom Half Team
G Ben Hansbrough (Notre Dame)
G Austin Freeman (Georgetown)
G E'Twaun Moore (Purdue)
F Nikola Vucevic (USC)
F JaJuan Johnson (Purdue)
Bottom Half All-Rookie Team
G Maurice Jones (USC)
G Terone Johnson (Purdue)
F Okaro White (Florida State)
F Nate Lubick (Georgetown)
F Kourtney Roberson (Texas A&M)
Bottom Half All-Lower Seed Team
G Wesley Jenkins (Saint Peter's)
G Joey Rodriguez (VCU)
G Derwin Kitchen (Florida State)
F Zeke Marshall (Akron)
Region Winner: Kansas